Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,

I think I see my brother coming, riding many a mile.

Brother, did you get me some silver?

Did you get a little gold?

What did you bring me, my brother, to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

-"Gallows Pole," Led Zeppelin

Dean had known before the Supreme Court ruling that, no matter what happened, they weren't done with legal matters. Charlie had laid out for him that it was just a tipping point, one that would set off a veritable avalanche of legal action in their favor, sweeping up the mess of the world one lawsuit at a time, many with him as a figurehead. But holding his dying husband in his arms as he bled out far away from home, it didn't matter anymore. Nothing did but getting Castiel to take another breath, keeping him from slipping away.

Cas carved a place for himself fighting at Dean's side from the start, but he was never supposed to be the one out there on his own, and never supposed to be made a victim. But since the day they met, he threw himself into the fight against Dean's assailants without any regard for what it might mean for him personally and professionally. Castiel has been prepared (to a frightening degree) to martyr himself to Dean's cause if he had to, and he very nearly succeeded in it.

So it's hard being back here and having his hands tied legally, but Dean has had months to come to terms with the fact that this time it's different. This time, it's Castiel's battle they're preparing for, not Dean's. This fight was set in motion years before Cas ever mated himself to an obstinate Omega, and it's Dean's turn to hang back and be support.

Chin raised and jaw tensed, blue eyes narrowed into a squint, at first glance Castiel is entirely composed as he sits shoulder to shoulder with his husband in the small conference room off of the courtroom, but Dean knows his nervous tells. He knows the anonymous room with its cheap low-pile carpet and plain beige walls, a wood veneered table dominating the space, looks like a death trap now. Dean reaches over silently to take Cas's hand in his, stopping him from twisting his fingers together in his lap, and Castiel clutches his hand like a lifeline as he nods again at Sam's ongoing spiel, the comforting gesture unnoticed by the third member of their little band as he paces in the confined space.

"…Trial is over. He's already been found guilty. You're only coming into the sentencing phase to help them determine his punishment with your testimony. It's not too late still to just do this on camera, and they can show it to the jury without you going out there…"

"Sam, I want to face him. I want to see him, and I want him to see me."

Though this isn't the first time Castiel's explained this over the past several months, it's the last time he'll have to. The time for talking him out of it is up. Sam's shoulders drop as he stops his pacing abruptly and sighs, glancing at the clock ticking away on the wall and nodding his understanding of his brother-in-law's point at last. As a lawyer, he knows that Castiel's presence here, while not required, can make all of the difference. As the man who brought them all together in that conference room in California, though, he still feels responsible for what happened to Castiel in it. Dean knows the feeling.

"Alright." Sam rakes a hand through his overlong hair and straightens to his considerable full height. "…Alright. I'll go see how much longer we've got, and check in with the deputies."

Dean rocks in place as Sam claps him on the shoulder on his way out, shooting his little brother a reassuring glance before refocusing his attention on Castiel, who shifts in his seat to face him as soon as Sam closes the door behind him. Dean squeezes his fingers one last time before releasing his hand, reaching over to straighten Cas's tie again and beginning the reminder he really needs.

"Jody and Bobby have the twins back in Sioux Falls, and it'd take pretty much an army to get past the two of 'em. Gabe's off in Europe with Balthazar until the trial's all over, and he covered his tracks well anyway. Charlie's got a car for us outside, and we're out of here as soon as you're off the stand, and we'll be out of the state before they come back with a sentence. Ellen had Ash reserve rooms for us all under a different name on the other side of town. Even if the asshole still had the money or the pull to hire someone else to come after either of us, we've got a half-dozen cops in that courtroom with us."

"You don't need to be in the courtroom at all." Castiel counters quietly, head bowed to watch Dean's hands as he smooths the tie down Cas's chest, deliberately reminding himself of the scar bisecting the skin beneath, the surgeries Cas is still recovering from even months later. After a beat, Dean leans forward to rest his forehead against his husband's.

"You're not even actually trying to run me off, jackass. You know the routine. We got this. Besides, it was methe asshole was trying to kill, so it's even more salt in the wound for me to be here with you, right?"

Castiel puffs out an exasperated sigh but nods in agreement. They've had this planned for long enough now that it's not really worth it to fight to change the plan. Castiel needs to do this, so Dean is going to damn well be there with him.

They're being cautious because everyone in their families demands it of them, but they're not afraid. If Dean got any sense that Cas was actually afraidto walk into this courtroom, he'd have called it all off long before they got this far. Cas is instinctively protective though, and Dean can't even entirely blame him for it this time. Hooking his fingers under Cas's chin, he pulls him into a soft press of lips that has Castiel leaning in to the kiss, drinking in the scent and feel and comfort of mate, Dean deliberately abusing that bond now.

Dean breaks the kiss on a sly smirk he can't quite help, even if it will seem out of place to Castiel right now. Ignoring the suspiciously questioning look, he chucks Castiel under the chin one last time as the door pops open, Sam there to flank them on the way in and stay with Dean, just as protective in his own way.

"I'll tell you later. C'mon. Let's get this done. Time to be pissed off." The mood's all wrong for what's happening, especially given there is the genuine possibility they're walking into emotional or physical attacks, but Dean can't quite help his mood, and Cas is hardwired to let Dean's emotional state affect him, and trusts him even if he doesn't understand the reason for Dean's good humor yet. Telling Cas to get pissed off and shaking his shoulders before letting him go isn't even the weirdest of their pep-talks in the general scheme of things, but Dean's just not up for picking a fight to get Castiel agitated. He's pretty sure Cas'll reach pissed off within minutes of walking into the courtroom without his help.

They fall into step with each other on the way in, until Sam and Dean break off, Dean laying a hand on Cas's shoulder with a last squeeze before he strides to an open space in the audience with Sam at his side.

xXx

Castiel's steps don't falter as he marches to the witness stand, unbent by the weight of stares on him, defiant of now familiar contempt and judgement, and he nods condescendingly in greeting to the defendant's side of the room when he finishes swearing in and finally takes his place on the stand.

Michael's face is unreadable from the first row of the courtroom, the eldest of his children in the row behind him, each trying to be a carbon copy of their father. Beside him, Raphael is glaring imperiously at Cas when he meets his eyes, irritation showing when he's quickly dismissed. Inias looks as if he's trapped there by propriety, and Hester's hand tucked into the bend of his arm seems more like a restraint than a comfort. To their side, Uriel's outright contempt is less a surprise than it was when he first came home, and Cas doesn't let it hurt him again. Cas never cared to acquaint himself with the nieces and nephews taught to look down on him, but save for a few notable members he's fairly sure his entire family is lining the seats on one side of the room, a symbolic showing of support that Castiel was never granted when he was fighting for his own freedom.

It's only when he's surveyed them all, the family that disowned him, that Castiel lets himself look at the brother that set this all in motion.

Even neatly groomed and impeccably dressed for trial, the months of prison and the guilty verdict have left their mark on Lucifer in the gauntness of his face and the bags under his eyes, but there's no guilt or empathy in the stare he has leveled on his youngest brother.

Lucifer isn't capable of that.

The prosecutor has the court play the video footage from within the conference room, and Cas can hear Dean's laughter on the film, the low murmur of his father's disbelieving voice, and the sounds of celebration around them turn into gunshots and screams. When Dean's voice breaks on his name in the video, Castiel's resolve crumbles and he turns from his staring match to watch the clip for the first time.

It's disconcerting to see himself the way they did, his hand going limp as soon as he wrested the the gun from the attacker's hand, brow knitted in confusion as he stumbled. It's a matter of seconds before he sees Dean diving forward to catch him, Gabriel snatching at his arm to try and help slow his fall. His dead weight carries all three of them to the floor, momentarily out of the camera frame, but he can hear it still.

"Cas. Oh, God. No…"

Castiel closes his eyes to the disorienting camera footage when Sam tackles the assailant and knocks the camera off of its tripod as he goes, the video giving a sickening lurch before landing on the carpet, giving a canted view of the various conflicts beyond the blood seeping through the front of Castiel's dress shirt. If he focused he could piece together what's happening from the motion around the camera, but he keeps his eyes closed as the sounds and chaos and Dean's words wash around him the way they would have if he'd been able to hang on, the footage continuing on past what news sources were able to show.

"Oh, shit. . . Someone call a fucking ambulance! Hey, I'm here, I got you babe… you gotta stay awake. No! No, wake the fuck up... Castiel don't you dare fucking leave me you son of a bitch. You can't..."

Gabriel's voice is unrecognizable, all sharp commands and fear as he cuts off one of the panicking voices, giving them purpose. "Chuck, get up, get to the front door and lead the paramedics in when they get here. You're not helping Cas by freaking the fuck out."

He strains to pick out Dean's words playing out over the speakers underneath the shouts and sounds of movement, an ongoing stream of desperate pleas as Dean held him together, both his husband and his brother trying to stop the bleeding.

"You gotta stay with me, Cas. C'mon. Breathe. I'm here. I love you, alright, asshole? You gotta… you gotta come back. I can't do this without you... Cas!"

Castiel opens his eyes, seeking Dean out in the audience, and he can't look away once he finds him. Sam knows better than to try and touch Dean right now in front of everyone, though he looks as if he wants to wrap his arms around his brother. Dean's stiff-postured, eyes too bright and red-rimmed, jaw clenched stubbornly, but with a stiff nod he reassures Cas that he's okay and that he knows Cas is okay now, a reminder to both of them that they lived through this.

It doesn't make a surround-sound replay any easier for Dean to sit through.

When the video ends and the unfamiliar attorney begins to address him and the grand jury at once, Castiel forces himself to look away from Dean, to draw in a breath and raise his chin again, straightening his posture in the chair. For once, no one has tried to tell him how to act, how to behave, how to feel when he's on the stand, and it's as intimidating not to have orders to follow as it is freeing.

"Doctor Winchester, Lucifer Allen has been found guilty on all of the counts of the indictment. It has been proved to the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he paid your assailant to enter that room and open fire, with an illegal firearm procured and provided for him by your brother upon his arrival that morning. When the assassin was taken into custody, your brother then paid a former client to kill him, and attempted to conceal the evidence. . ."

Castiel catches movement out of the corner of his eye, and turns his head to look at his brother as he folds his arms across his chest, drawing himself up in his chair further. It must rankle Lucifer, that he doesn't know for sure who put in the call for the inmate to murder his assassin, to make it seem as if he'd gotten sloppy. All of his careful planning, his elaborate schemes to ensure he got away without anyone having proof of what he'd done, exposed by the one act he's actually innocent of. Gabriel spent over a year learning his way around Lucifer's life, his finances, his methods, and hid himself too well.

"...Can you tell us what happened, and the impact it has had?"

Castiel scoffs quietly, dragging his palm down his chin as if to wipe away the initial biting sarcasm he wanted to answer that in, a gesture he's inadvertently picked up from Dean as their repartee sharpened his tongue. "As the video showed, I was shot. Twice." It's Sam in the seats who rolls his hand, encouraging his brother-in-law to keep going as if he's still the attorney dealing with a difficult witness. As if Castiel planned to simply stop there. "The first bullet ruptured my spleen, the second punched through my liver, and I needed transfusions after massive blood loss. My heart stopped in the ambulance, and again on the operating table. Make no mistake: it is only by miracle that I am sitting here. I died as my husband and my friends watched."

The fury Dean encouraged is a rising heat unfurling in his chest as he cuts his eyes back to his eldest brothers. It wasn't just Castiel that was hurt that day, and as he echoes his husband's haunted confession, Cas stops reigning in his rage.

"We were stalked across the country that morning. I saw the shooter in the airport terminal watching us, but he walked on without taking a shot. My brother hired him to follow us from our home, to ride with us on the airplane, to watch us and our infant childrenthe entire morning." Lucifer stripped away their sense of safety and privacy, and that lingers even now. Lucifer is probably comforted by the idea that they will spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder, the rest of their lives afraid of what he might do to them for this. That's why it was so important that they both come, and why they can't crack under the pressure, even if it would make for a better show to the jury.

"Lucifer's hired killer waited in that conference room with us for a ruling for over an hour, then stepped forward for a handshake to lure Dean in, and opened fire. That was by my brother's design: he was making a statement. Regardless of what the Supreme Court ruled, he didn't see the men and women gathered in that room as people. Lucifer told his hired killer to start his massacre by murdering my husband and my father, and he feels nothing about that decision. In his mind, he was putting down rabid animals who bit their masters, and I was in the way."

Lucifer, Michael, Raphael, his brothers and their families and their money and their reputation, they have no claim over him any more. They gave up any right to claim familial relationship to him when they decided that Jimmy was an aberration, that his twin brother's child and wife were less important than their money. When they decided that Castiel should be written off for falling in love with a 'whore,' and endangering their reputation by fighting for what he felt was right. When Lucifer decided that Dean and Chuck were supposed to die to teach him a lesson, and the rest of them stood behind that decision enough to support it in a courtroom.

His only family in this room are Dean and Sam. Outside of this room, his family are Mary and Jimmy, waiting for him to come home and too young to understand or remember the upheaval of their lives. It's Ellen and Jo, who took care of Dean and the twins when they needed it after the shooting. It's Bobby Singer and Jody Mills, willing to protect them right now if anything should happen while they're away. It's Claire and Amelia and Chuck, who would open their home to him in an instant if he needed it. It's Charlie, waiting in the car right now to take them away from here. It's Balthazar, who never gave up on him, even when Castiel shut him out. It's Emanuel, who is slowly trying to repair what they once had, though it may mean losing the connection to these people. It's Gabriel, who found the courage to choose his baby brother over his closest kin, and then ensured Lucifer would face justice for what he'd done.

Castiel found his family. And then Lucifer tried to murderthem.

"Lucifer held no regard for their lives, because as Omegas and Alpha 'traitors,' they were beneath him. But I know Lucifer… he helped to raise me… and I know that my brother regards all of us as beneath him. He is entirely capable of justifying any crime, any violation… even murder. He wanted a bloodbath, and he nearly got one." He's going off-script here, veering out of discussion of the crime Lucifer is being convicted for and on to his character, but now, face to face with the man, he can't stop. Even before what he's on trial for, Lucifer hand enabled Alastair in raping Dean hundreds of times. He tried to sell Claire like cattle. How many men and women had Lucifer condemned to die in the hands of men like Alastair? If this is Castiel's only chance to condemn his brother for everything he's done, he's going to use it.

"Whatever sentence you consider for him, I hope you do so with full awareness that he feels no remorse. He still feels he was in the right. All he will learn from this conviction, if he is ever freed, is to better conceal his retaliation. He will continue to abuse the legal system to hide himself, because that is what he does, and all he knows."

"Because in the end, Lucifer is nothing but a narcissistic, irrational, egotistical, murderouscowardwith delusions of grandeur."

His testimony isn't what they were looking for. The purpose of his victim's statement was supposed to be to make himself pitiable, to show how Lucifer's crime hurt him, but in actuality he came here to spit in Lucifer's face. He's done running and hiding from these people.

Whatever happens to Lucifer is in God's hands and the jury's now, and if there is any justice in the world he will never be a free man again, after everything he's done. If they decide to execute him for his crimes, Castiel will shed no tears over Lucifer, nor will he lament being the testimony that sent him to his death. Later he'll reflect on that sentiment as unchristian of him, but Lucifer is even more a monster than the two soldiers whose blood he already wears on his hands.

Dean is there for him when he rises, offering Cas a hand down that he will argue to the end of time that he doesn't need, but takes regardless. He's short of breath after that outburst, heart pounding, and Dean lets Castiel fold him into his arms without protest even in front of an audience. Perhaps in this case just because they have an audience the display of affection will infuriate. Lucifer and his brothers and sisters will see this as theatrics, as manipulation, as Castiel playing their own game to emotionally manipulate the jury.

Cas doesn't care. He just needs the reminder that Dean is okay, that video dredging up his recurring nightmare of if Lucifer had succeeded, and murdered his mate and their children and his brother and his father in front of him. Squeezing Cas gently, Dean tips his head to murmur to him without being overhead, face tucked into the bend of his neck as if he's drawing in Cas's scent and comforting himself, playing the distraught Omega for the audience just long enough to seem like it's a momentary break in his own resolve rather than Castiel's distress. "You did good, Cas. I'm so fucking proud of you. But we're not out yet. Head up, walk slow, don't let 'em see you rattled."

Dean knows just what Castiel needs, clear commands and a reminder that they're still in the middle of hostile territory. It helps him focus, and with a nod and a final squeeze, Castiel draws a deep breath, centering himself on Dean, and marches out beside him without a last look at his birth family, arm around his mate as a clear sign of his loyalties.

xXx

Lilith waits outside the courthouse just past the gathered press, and Castiel exchanges a look with Dean that earns him a disapproving frown. They have different ideas of who the bigger threat here is: Castiel terrified of saying the wrong thing in front of the cameras, and Dean ready to break Lilith if she says the wrong thing to Cas. There's little arguing with Castiel once he's chosen his battles, and they don't have time before the press spots them, calling for them to step beneath a temporary canopy acting as the big top for the travelling circus of media, protecting them from ashfall. Castiel dodges them and the Winchesters, moving past them and down the steps as Dean sighs and then moves in to steal the press's attention away from the other confrontation.

Lilith waits for him, her hair and makeup a perfect mask, her chin high as if to showcase the red satin ribbon circling her neck, the scarlet of her nails, lips, umbrella and collar as vibrant as blood spilled across snow as the ash falls around her in gentle flurries. There is no denying that Lucifer's mate is a beautiful woman, but it's the cold, merciless beauty of a glacier.

"I expected you to be in the courtroom. When you weren't, I'd hoped you'd found the courage to leave him."

"He's my mate, as you apparently discovered in Chicago before you bludgeoned him with statuary." Lilith's words are a clipped dismissal of the idea that she would leave Lucifer. Theirs is not a love match-far from it, if Castiel's understanding of both of them is correct. Biology paired them together when she was little more than a child herself, a young Omega but an ambitious and ruthless one, Lucifer's perfect match in every way. It has taken her years to claw what power she has from his brother under the nose of his family, and that's a testament to how cunning she must be that they never noticed she was anything more than a pet. "When he is released… and make no mistake, he will be… I will be there. What I want to know is how you framed him, and what you intend to do with the fortune you stole."

No, that's wrong. Not that she's pumping him for information-Castiel assumed she would, and has no intention of giving Gabriel up to Lucifer if he's still even a little uncertain-but it's wrong that Lilith is out here waiting for him. It's enough to make him suspicious.

"Either you're trying to find some way to incriminate me, and to consequently exonerate Lucifer, or. . . my family suspects you." If Castiel had to wager, he'd assume both. Lilith is an upjumped Omega closely placed to Lucifer as everything fell apart in the wake of Dean having Omegas declared their own people. She had been using the family fortunes for years, managing the household, collared Omegas surrounding her as little more than slaves… or spies. It made no sense, to those unaware of their mating bond, for Lucifer to allow her so much freedom unless she had something on him. And for those who knew they were mated, they may have come to believe she was using that to manipulate him. Lilith was likely already under suspicion by his family long beforehand, but despite that she thrived.

Lilith neither confirms nor denies the attempt to entrap him, her back straightening in subtle defiance, eyes hard and uncaring.

"Lilith, if you are a victim in this, I truly hope you take this opportunity to get away. ...But I don't believe you're a victim. I think you're my brother's eyes and ears. In which case, I have a message for him when you find favor with him again-and I'm certain you will."

Leaning in, Castiel drops his voice, a low rumble as he taps into the simmering anger he's been building since their arrival. "If he attacks my family again, I will not need to hire some contract killer to dispose of him: I'll handle him myself. And Lilith, if anyone comes after us while Lucifer is in prison, I will know you helped him, and I will find you."

Sam is looming over them both as Cas straightens, and his false cheer as he interjects is as transparent as Dean's silent maneuvering to put himself in arm's length of Lilith, just in case. "What've we got going on here?"

"Your client issuing death threats." Lilith is studiedly pretending to be unfazed by the threat, but it's not fear that Castiel can sense from the Omega-she's enraged, no matter how unaffected she seems as she slides her gaze haughtily to Sam. "As his legal counsel, I would assume you'd have advised him such statements could be used against him."

"From what I heard, he said if his scumbag brother tries anything, he'll react. 'If.' Conditional threats aren't prosecutable. Your mate should've taught you that one." Sam even flashes her a dimple in his smile: he learned how to be infuriating from a master, and he is as fiercely protective as Dean in his own way. Dean, for his part, isn't going to linger long enough for Cas's family to spill out of the courthouse around them. As much as Cas is spoiling for a fight, they can't allow a reenactment of Jimmy's funeral in front of the press.

"C'mon, Cas. She's got nothin' to say that you need to hear. Charlie's waiting in the car. We're getting outta here." Dean tugs him down the stairs by his grip, and Castiel can't help but be pulled along with him, putting himself between Dean's unprotected back and Lilith's hateful stare at him. It doesn't stop her words from reaching them.

"A rather condescending view from the supposed Omega messiah." Lilith's lip curls in a contemptuous sneer, and as Dean stops and turns to face her again she looks down on them from the steps above. "I suppose I should expect no less from someone so arrogant that he put his life before the lives of all of the Omegas in this country who are losing their shelter, their income, their security, and those whose mates are being imprisoned for your selfish crusade, putting them out on the streets unprotected. Or have you deluded yourself into believing that you're fighting this for us?"

Dean watches Lilith with something like pity, squeezing Cas's warningly hand to keep him from interrupting. These steps back have given a clearer look at her: ash stains her white suit at the sleeves and hem, and her heels are gray with it. There are chips in her manicure, and her makeup is settled into the lines of her forehead.

A step back, and he can understand why Dean isn't lashing out in return with the full force of his biting sarcasm. Lilith has already lost.

"Lady, there ain't much I can do for someone who choosesto wear a collar and let herself be called some asshole's bitch. You got screwed over by the exact same system I did whether you want to see it or not, and the day you're willing to admit that you're gonna be a hell of a lot better off."

It's Sam who breaks up the conversation before it can go farther and either dredge up Dean's misplaced guilt or turn into something ugly, and he steps between them as a human wall, ushering his brother and brother-in-law towards the back seat as Charlie pulls the car around. "Alright, that's it. Deal was we aren't sticking around."

Dean grinds his teeth to bite back his retorts, but slides in first and tugs Castiel with him until he's in the center of the back seat, Cas accepting Dean's arm around him as he closes his eyes to the headache he's given himself worrying for weeks how today could have gone wrong. Whatever Dean's thoughts are on Lilith, he doesn't let them overshadow what he's trying to do: anchor Cas, and himself. Everything his family has done… to Dean, to Claire, to Jimmy, to Gabriel… and letting all that anger out after so long has left Cas exhausted, but at least there were no more attempts on their lives, and apart from Lilith, the rest of his family was too caught up in protecting their image to confront him directly.

Dean presses his lips to Cas's temple, and looks to the front seat where Sam and Charlie are discussing anything but the court case they're leaving behind, from dinner plans on the way out of town to their flight out in the morning, and when the rental is due back in Sioux Falls and the arrangement with Bobby to bring the Impala to them once they're back in the town. Throughout her chatter, Charlie keeps glancing back at Dean in the rearview mirror with a raised eyebrow and pointed looks at Cas, until Dean draws a breath that Castiel recognizes as him forcing a change of tone. Finally, Dean nods to Charlie and she cuts her words off neatly, letting him speak.

"So I think Cas and me are taking a year off from this, starting now."

Castiel blinks his eyes open slowly, confused, and carefully sits up and away from his mate to shoot him a bewildered expression. This wasn't a plan he was aware of. From Sam's suddenly furrowed brow, it's news to him too. Charlie's lack of confusion is just as disorienting, her lip caught between her teeth to keep her from smiling and her eyes focused on the road as she drives to keep herself out of the conversation, as Sam takes on his reasonable tone. "A year off from court cases? I mean… we can take it to just your signature on most of the…"

"Testimony. Press conferences. Protests. We're out of the public eye for at least a year. Can you do that for us, Sammy?" Sam frowns, but nods at the request, and Charlie grins her way through changing lanes as Dean reassures Sam that they're not running out entirely on the cause. "I'll keep it going online and in newspaper interviews or whatever, we'll keep helping out with the shelters and halfway houses and behind the scenes stuff. Cas'll keep going on the religious thing... maybe I'll write for his blog again or whatever. I'm sure we'll be stir crazy and ready to go in about a year, but yeah. For now we're out."

"Dean… if this is about my testimony, I'm fine. No matter what they decide with Lucifer, I'll be. . ." Castiel stops when Dean claps a hand over his mouth, still looking at his brother and not meeting Cas's eyes.

"Will Cas and me taking a step back sink us?"

"No, but…?"

"Good." Dean smirks, dropping his hand from Cas's mouth and turning to face his mate now, and Castiel can't help but be drawn in by Dean's obvious good mood, no matter how strange it seems still given today's events. "So hey, Cas, you know how my Heat's been all fucked up since you were shot?"

Castiel tilts his head slightly, brow furrowing in confusion at the abrupt topic change. "Yes…? It was an understandable biological reaction to seemingly losing your mate, and to the high stress you were under."

"Yeah, for a while there." Dean agrees, and he shoots a warning glare at Charlie when she bounces in her seat, before returning his attention to Castiel. "Turns out I missed the last couple the old fashioned way though. I'd have said something sooner, but you'd have tried to keep me from coming to this with you, and I'd have had to kick your ass, and it'd have been embarrassing."

"I don't. . ."

It's more embarrassing how long it takes for Castiel to catch on. He trails off and stares blankly at Dean, his mate's smirk growing into a grin with every beat he doesn't respond, until his overworked mind puts the pieces together and everything finally clicks.

"But.. you were on birth control."It's the first thing to pop into Castiel's head, as ridiculous as it may be, and he shakes that thought away while Dean is still laughing at him for voicing it. "There's a higher failure rate for them when used by Omegas. We knew that already. But were you… Are you okay with this, or… "

Dean spares Castiel having to dig himself out of his thoughts by cupping Cas's cheek with his hand and drawing him in for a kiss that Castiel melts into, much to the apparent glee of the front seat, Charlie who cheers and Sam who's laughing at Cas's panic. Right now, nothing else matters, and he knows Dean held onto this information to make sure it wouldn't, to keep him from worrying his way through travel and the testimony, the knowledge that the preeclampsia of Dean's first pregnancy puts him at risk in the second, the fact that Dean hasn't eaten anything today, even. It helps explain how much more irrationally protective he's felt of Dean recently, and how easily Dean has talked him down, but…

When Dean breaks the kiss, all those worries flood in at once, but they can't entirely tamp down the utter joy of it all. Dean and Mary and Jimmy are Castiel's entire world, and he's never hidden that he wants a large family with Dean. Since he's been on the mend they haven't had a shortage of life-affirming sex, but he wasn't expecting…

'The last couple' of Heats, Dean had said.

"Are you already months pregnant and didn't tell me, Dean…?" Castiel tries to scowl at him but it doesn't quite take, and his hand is already creeping over to press gently to Dean's stomach above his seatbelt as if he can feel the life growing inside. The last pregnancy they were actually trying for it, and there was never any surprise; he knew before Dean did, as the one to check the test. There will be questions later about if he missed any medical appointments, if Dean's been having morning sickness that Castiel missed because of early shifts at the hospital, but for now he curls into Dean as much as he can in the back seat, Dean tucking Cas's head beneath his chin and allowing himself to be crowded over, still chortling at Castiel.

"Totally worth springing that on you for your reaction. Friggin' dork." Even with how miserable the first pregnancy was at times, and how Dean's health took a dive at the end, Castiel doted on him the entire time. He's going to be impossible for the next few weeks trying to make up for not being able to spoil Dean for much of the first trimester this time around. "First sonogram is a couple days after we get back. Haven't had a real appointment yet, didn't want friggin' nurse groupie to stick her nose in and rat me out."

"Hannah is not a groupie." Castiel rumbles grumpily against Dean's neck, the familiar objection completely ignored.

"Congrats." Sam is still laughing in the front seat, nearly twisted around to see them both, and his grin is brilliant, genuinely pleased for them both. "And god does this explain a lot. Charlie sucks at keeping secrets. I knew she was keeping something from me because she clams up, but squeaks when you ask her what she's…"

Charlie whacks Sam's shoulder reproachfully. "I do not squeak. Dean needed someone to talk who wouldn't try to pack him in bubble wrap if he thought about going anywhere, but you have no idea how hard it was to keep that in."

"I'm going to be upset about being kept in the dark later." Castiel warns. He probably should be upset right now that Dean left him clueless. Lucifer and his family could have tried to kill Dean and their unborn child or children. But he's not sure he can be angry at Dean right now. For all of their arguments, Dean holds the complete advantage here.

"Yeah. Sure you will." Castiel bites at his neck lightly in retaliation for his sarcasm, before he soothes it over with lips and tongue, winning a low hum of approval from Dean. He takes the approval for permission to tuck his fingers between the buttons of Dean's dress shirt, fingertips finding the warm skin of his husband's belly.

He thought Dean's waist was going soft because of the forced sedentary lifestyle of caring for someone recovering from major surgery, and he'd loved him for that too, the way he loves the deepening creases by his eyes from his smiles, the spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose that Castiel swears he picked up on their desert honeymoon, the low c-section scar and the delicate tracing of the stretch marks, all of these small changes that Dean will never admit he's self conscious about. All of these little indicators of their life together, marks of Castiel's affection left on Dean's skin, are better than any love bite because they will stay, better than a barbaric claiming because Dean should never be harmed, better than any collar or leash because Dean never should be restrained, and because each change is authentic and natural for Dean, and he chose it.

Telling Dean these things as they curled together in bed, kissing and caressing each mark he could reach while they were knotted together and Dean couldn't escape the affection, got him laughed at as a possessive alpha bastard and a sap. But Dean pregnant. . .

"You're doing that thing again." Dean's warning is lowered to keep the front seat out of their conversation, and still warmed by his amusement at Castiel's reaction. Castiel just thumbs one of the buttons of Dean's shirt open so he can fit his entire hand beneath the fabric, palming him possessively.

"No, I'm not." Castiel denies stubbornly, even while deliberately proving Dean's point, thumb sweeping back and forth over skin.

"All the fetishes in the world and you go for the one that makes me fat, pissed off, and kills our sex life."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Castiel lies, but can't let it go. "...Nor is it a fetish. And even with children our sex life is obviously still very active."

"You're such an idiot." Castiel smiles into Dean's shoulder at the loving insult.

"Yes, well, you clearly find that an attractive quality. And you'reone to talk about fetishes."

"I'm like 90% sure I didn't get knocked up with this kid when you came home in the scrubs your first day back at work. ...Maybe 70%."

"Oh God, Dean…"

They lurch in place as the car is thrown abruptly in park, both of them entirely unaware that they've arrived at their chosen hotel outside of the city until Charlie flings her door open immediately on arrival, as if to air out the rental car. Sam escapes out his own door, legs too long for the confinement of the rental, making him unfolding rapidly from it an amusing scramble.

"Yeah, that's enough of that. Sorry, love you guys, but you two need to get a room far away from the uninterested lesbian and your creeped out little brother." Cupping her hand, Charlie finishes in a stage whisper. "Sam's still trying to forget there's sex involved in making him nieces and nephews. He doesn't want a visual."

"We'll get settled and grab dinner, then bring you up something when you're done with..." Sam's gesture at them is all-encompassing as he returns carrying his and Charlie's bags, and Castiel can feel himself flushing in mortification. They weren't doing anything untoward, and they were keeping their voices down, but he's afraid of what words Sam and Charlie may have overheard from the quiet conversation in the back.

Dean smirks at his brother as he bumps open the door and slides out of the car, extending a hand to pull Cas out through his side. "Prude. Give us an hour or so. And bring me some. . ."

"'Bring me some pie.'" Sam finishes for him, speaking in time with his brother. "I know the routine, Dean." Sam waves Dean's snarky comeback off, but captures his brother in a congratulatory hug long enough for Castiel to grab their own bags without Dean's help, Charlie handing off their room key to him with a flourish. "I'm telling Bobby and Ellen as soon as you're upstairs."

"You're a friggin' wuss." Dean cuffs his brother upside the head, and they bicker good-naturedly all the way into the hotel. It doesn't escape anyone's notice that, despite Charlie and Sam's plans, they're first escorting Dean and Castiel to their room like overly virtuous prom chaperones. Dean makes momentary eye contact with everyone they pass, either as a challenge or to reassure himself that he'll recognize their faces later, the way he didn't the assassin.

Castiel watches as the hotel door swings closed behind Sam and Charlie, and Dean leans against it for just a moment after throwing the safety lock and chain, forehead against the doorframe as he lets the tension and the unaffected persona drain away. It's just a moment, but Castiel knows it's an important one: Dean's shedding his armor, or trying to.

Dropping their bags on the dresser, Cas settles quietly on the edge of the bed facing away, giving Dean his privacy as he slips off his shoes, neatly rolling his socks together and tucking them into the toe. By the time his tie is off and his dress shirt unbuttoned, he feels the mattress sink as Dean drops himself gracelessly into the bed, and a glance shows his husband stripped down to his slacks as well, arm stretched beneath the edge of the pillows, a half-hidden snare ready to drag Cas in close as soon as he approaches.

Cas lets himself be captured and drawn into Dean's side, tucking his head against Dean's neck for a moment before he impatiently shifts instead, sliding down to rest his head on Dean's chest and sliding a hand under the waistband of his mate's slacks to cup against his stomach, estimating how low their child will be at this stage and trying to feel.

"Grabby." Dean chides, but there's no real intent to throw him off of his task. Castiel has time to make up, to both of them, but with kids. . . Cas has some issues still, and Dean knows it. When Dean was first pregnant with the twins, he once short-temperedly snapped at Cas practically clinging to his stomach. Cas had relented for days, but fell into a quiet sulk until Dean dragged a rambling explanation from him. It was something about baby monkeys, and a study that showed comfort touch was craved even more than food, and a wire-frame monkey that provided no comfort but all the food, and the severe deficits in social behavior that lack of touch caused. It took no time at all to figure out that Cas was thinking a hell of a lot more about the creche and his own supposed shortcomings, growing up in a near-sterile environment with only his twins as company, than some sadistic monkey doctor and what sounded like a depressing as hell Animal Planet episode or a true belief either of them would deprive their kids.

So even when it's not exactly the most comfortable way to be trapped on a bed, or the most exciting, Dean does try to indulge Cas on the little things. Tucking an arm under his head, other hand running his fingers through Cas's hair, Dean lets Cas have his moment.

He's almost surprised when Cas talks to him instead of his stomach. He can hear the catch in Cas's voice, hushed as if they'll still be overheard. "I wish you'd told me."

Okay, that's a fair point.

Dean lets that sink in like the accusation he knows it really isn't, because Cas probably couldn't bite his head off right now even if he wanted to. Biological imperatives, which is almost always half the problem anyway. "Wouldn't have gone well, being in the room with Lucifer and you knowing. ...Cas, you've looked at the friggin' grocery store clerk like he was going to kill me for the past few months. And you didn't even know yet, and we weren't even here for the trial yet."

Dean can feel Cas's lips twist by way of the sandpapering movement of his cheek against Dean's skin, but at least Cas doesn't try to deny that. "I don't like the way he looks at you."

"He's a snot-nosed teenaged brat who I could break like a twig, who probably has an overactive imagination and a subscription to an Omega porn site. I don't need you to deal with the 19-year-old kid bagging up your frozen friggin' waffles. You're kinda proving my point here." Castiel huffs indignantly against Dean's skin but doesn't argue, and Dean takes the small win. Especially since he knows it's the only one he's going to give himself. "...It's fucked up I didn't tell you once I figured it out. I get that. But you weren't coming here alone."

It's a half-assed apology defended by a stubborn assertion of loyalty, but after a moment Castiel sighs quietly, letting go of the frustration. Pressing a kiss to Dean's stomach, he tucks a leg over Dean's shins and chews over how to respond, coming back with a confession of his own.

"I know you weren't ready for more children. I'm sorry you were surprised by this pregnancy… but I'm not sorry we're going to have a larger family."

Dean snorts in wry amusement, rolling his eyes, and when Cas glances up at him questioningly Dean flashes him a disarming, crooked grin. "Don't think I'm surprised. You got a thing for knocking me up. Might be a year or two earlier than I expected, but I figured we were gonna have another kid someday. Three's a good number."

"I seem to recall you being an active participant in 'knocking you up.'" Castiel arches one eyebrow loftily, moving to prop himself up on his elbow at Dean's side, other hand still splayed over Dean's stomach. Drawn in by the challenge in Dean's eyes, he lets himself forget about the trial and his brother and the murder attempt and politics and religion for a while. It takes his full concentration to keep up with Dean in a verbal battle of wits, and Dean knows that and still rarely lets him win. "Three, then. ...But what if we have twins again? Or triplets?"

"Then your knot ain't coming anywhere near me again." Dean doesn't miss a beat answering, but his words are belied by the lefthand tug of his lips, the laugh lines that crease his eyes for a moment before he can hide it. "Hell, if you even say'triplets' around me again, you're gonna be getting real familiar with your hand and flying solo."

Cas scoffs his amusement before he can stop himself, as caught in Dean's moods as he's ever been, swept up in the distraction his husband deliberately becomes. "Is that so."

His back hits the bed before he can finish his deadpan retort, Dean's knees digging into his hips as he bears him down into the mattress, palms pinning his shoulders to the bed. "Sounding a bit cocky there, Cas."

Dean deflects and distracts, but there's still an edge that he doesn't quite hide, a challenge in his voice and a guarded vulnerability in his eyes when he searches Cas's face, trying to determine if Castiel is angry at him for keeping something so important a secret from him.

"We okay?"

There is so much more to that question than just seeking reassurance that a well-intentioned secret is going to strain their marriage. Dean planned all of this not just to keep them both safe until they were out of that courtroom, but to give him an ace in the hole that would distract Castiel from everything going on.

Outside of this hotel room, his brother may live or die based upon his testimony, and his brother's mate wants their heads on a stick and is desperate enough to do something about it. Outside of this hotel room are Castiel's patients waiting for them to return, ranging from catatonic to self-destructive to nearly feral following their time on illegal farms, lost souls too battered to move on, who he can only treat and listen to and hope. Outside of this room, his faith in God is tested nearly every day, and they will continue to fight to create a better world for their children to live in, in absolute defiance of anyone who judges them for this.

No, things aren't all right in the world yet since the Supreme Court ruling. They have a long way to go still, and it's still a daily fight to make sure people don't fall through the cracks, now that the system's been shown as flawed.

Castiel is conscious of all of that, no matter how effortlessly easy it is for Dean to distract him. He knows Dean never forgets either, that the weight of the responsibility he's assumed sits heavy on his shoulders, and will press him into action even as they take a year off from the spotlight.

They live a life that is a complicated mess of politics and violence, and that doesn't seem likely to change. But even if that is what makes the history books or the news and gossip, that is not what ultimately defines them. This, here and now, is what's important. The world has narrowed down to just this: in bed with his mate, still absolutely enamoured with his husband, and aware he always will be.

As a friend once said, no matter how tumultuous their lives may be, theirs is ultimately a love story. It is the one constant, the one absolute, of their lives together.

Sweeping his thumb along the sharp line of Dean's jaw, Castiel commits this moment to memory and with it this beautiful complicated man who has turned his life upside down and given him purpose and hope. It's a moment before Castiel realizes Dean is still waiting for an answer, for reassurance however unnecessary Castiel thinks it must be. Nodding, he draws Dean down to him, smiling into the kiss.

"We're okay."